One of the foremost woodcut and book artists since the 1940s, Antonio Frasconi is best known for combining realist and symbolic imagery to address political and social issues. His work also includes such subjects as bestiaries, lyrical landscapes, and illustrations for children's stories and other literary works. Fascinated by the political prints of Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, Frasconi began his seven-decade career as a satirical cartoonist. Raised in Uruguay, he has lived in the United States since 1945, when he received a scholarship from the Art Students League in New York. An admirer of German Expressionist and Japanese woodcuts, he did much to sustain interest in the medium at mid-century and, of the three thousand prints he has made, most were executed using this technique.
For his books, numbering more than one hundred, Frasconi makes full use of page sequencing to create visual narratives into which he often incorporates fragments of text with fonts he has designed himself. An indefatigable craftsman, he does his own printing, but has also reproduced some books photomechanically so they can be distributed more broadly through inexpensive trade editions. Viet Nam! alternates woodcuts of war-torn victims with relief halftone prints of sleek B52 bombers, both based on newspaper photographs. The interleaving of white, red, black, and translucent papers, sometimes left blank or repeating previous pages, creates a cinematic rhythm.
In Los Desaparecidos, Frasconi pays homage to citizens of Latin America who, because of their suspected dissent, "disappeared" during the period of military dictatorships there. Here he exploits the raw immediacy of wood grain and experiments with scale to achieve powerfully confrontational effects. Political themes, like those explored here, have been a passion for Frasconi. He even taught a course in the use of art as social statement during his long tenure as a professor at the State University of New York at Purchase.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Jennifer Roberts, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 216.